Before pressing onwards with my Piero Piccioni chronology, I feel mention must be made of the long-lasting collaborations Piccioni had made with director Francesco Rosi.
(do you think he can out-glare Ennio Morricone in a staring contest?)
Though Rosi may not possess the high-recognition of a Federico Fellini, Rosi is nonetheless a world-class film director.
A very interesting trait that had existed within Italian film scoring was the range of freedom a composer in the industry had to vacillate between low-budget movies and higher profile prestige pictures. Thus, Piccioni's scoring of domestic comedies and giallos did not ruin his chances to write for "art" films (a few of which have been released by the Criterion Collection). Would an American such as Ronald Stein, who was toiling away scoring Roger Corman quickies, ever land an assignment to write music for a SPARTACUS or EL CID production? Would an Alfred Newman ever had his name attached to a William Castle cheapie or any exploitation flick?
I'm not sure how he did it, but Piccioni, in-between scoring a couple of peplum (& with Alberto Sordi comedies looming in the immediate future), managed to produce for Francesco Rosi's 1961 SALVATORE GIULIANO distinctively modern music on par with the academic Italian music scene at the time.
Minimalism, in more than one sense, could be the term to describe Piero Piccioni's score to SALVATORE GIULIANO. Within an exceptionally brief score of approximately 14 minutes of music for a film whose runtime duration is 125 minutes (Goldsmith's PATTON - eat your heart out), Piccioni could still task the listener's patience with sustained chords performed in lower-registers, with occasional ostinatos and twangs of a Jews Harp that barely, if at all, relaxes tension.
A 4.5 minute "preview" over @ Criterion's website gives a sample of what this remarkable score sounds like; Piero Piccioni even gets verbal acknowledgement in the DVD's audio commentary by Peter Cowie!
About a year and a half after this, Piccioni produced one of his most iconic film scores for Rosi's next cinematic offering - LE MANI SULLA CITTA' (HANDS OVER THE CITY), starring Rod Steiger.
Once again, Rosi created investigative cinema, in no-nonsense documentary fashion, into another aspect of male-dominated social corruption which yielded opportunity for Piccioni to continue with his dissonances (albeit in a jazzier mold to reflect the metropolitan setting).
Piccioni's descending electric guitar motif plays as a question which is answered by tone pyramids of brass instruments, all backed various drum rolls, sounding (believe it or not) similar to some of Dominic Frontiere's music for THE OUTER LIMITS but with a jazz lounge vibe.
The original recording sessions for LE MANI SULLA CITTA' have been restored to excellent sound quality and can be heard on this GDM soundtrack (courtesy Sugar) from 2011, which combines this score with 2 other Rosi/Piccioni titles (SALVATORE GIULIANO and IL CASO MATTEI) in suite format.
(limited edition of 500 copies)
The orchestral commentative underscore for LE MANI SULLA CITTA' alternates track-by-track with jazz source music (most of which is not heard in the final print of the film). Regarding IL CASO MATTEI, - I'm getting ahead of myself in this Piccioni chronology - this 1972 item is another unique piece from Piccioni which also resembles contemporary classical musique concrete with its usage of magnetic tape/electronics to provide an all-pervasive and unrelenting industrial humming.
This disc is simply a must-hear and must-have for serious fans of serious Piero Piccioni! SALVATORE GIULIANO and LE MANI SULLA CITTA' are both "Top 10" Piccioni scores as far as I am concerned, and this CD album is one of the most distinguished soundtrack treasures to emerge during 2011.
This was a sort of bumper crop year for Piccioni. Piccioni not only had a significant number of collaborations with film directors both established and up-and-coming, his film music began to proliferate onto vinyl soundtrack records with increased regularity.
A good way to demonstrate this is by taking a before-and-after approach ...
... starting with UNA VITA VIOLENTA, the LP program of which re-issued by C.A.M. onto CD in 1993.
UNA VITA VIOLENTA is a middle-of-the-road Piccioni item for me. There's low-register growling from the brass band with percussive rhythms & some passages for lonely trumpet to satisfy the lover of Alex North soundtracks. However, half the album is filled with source music (calypso, twist, tango, cha cha, big band & easy listening tunes, a waltz, & period pop/rock) - the diversity of such detracts from whatever the overall mood was aimed for with commercial compromising for album sales purposes.
The overall mood of SENILITA is much more consistent, we are happy to report.
This C.A.M. LP was also re-issued onto CD in 1992.
SENILITA is another collaboration between director Mauro Bolognini and Piero Piccioni, which stars again Claudia Cardinale:
Piccioni weaves a haunting tapestry of expressionism with impressionism within SENILITA. A yearning nocturnal love theme descends step-wise with moments of rapturous saxophone & harp, offstage piano, flute in echo. This theme alternates with a tango for tuba and strings, and the soundtrack is at times reminiscent of Miklos Rozsa's kind of love theme - beguiling, gently persistent, obsessive. Yet, there is an irresolute quality in Piccioni's SENILITA which is elusive and avoids quantification. It's as if the blurred melodic lines of Claude Debussy wander off into an atonality expressing the uncertain progress of human aging and loving all the while never challenging the listener with any aural confrontations. SENILITA is subtlety incarnate. It is sublime. Top drawer Piccioni.
Piccioni's return to the peplum genre with IL FIGLIO DI SPARTACUS yields nothing better than what can be heard in his previous offering ROMOLO E REMO. This "Spartacus" is standard-issue musical material to fulfill genre needs, such as brassy heroic themes, sweeping orchestral gestures and archaic-sounding exotica. The 2007 CD from Digitmovies is the premiere release of this soundtrack, which is any case of interest only to peplum enthusiasts and Piccioni completists.
Piero Piccioni provides music for the debut feature of Bernardo Bertolucci - LA COMMARE SECCA (THE GRIM REAPER) - which is, basically, a re-imagining of the old RASHOMON tale.
A prostitute is killed, and this film focuses on all the various "stories" given by each of the witnesses present when the murder happened.
I don't think all of the music in this soundtrack appears in the film, and there's some music in the film which is not in the album. Regarding the album content, which has some sources pieces such as a tango and a cha cha, Piccioni's score is quite free-form. Utilizing those instruments common to a jazz band, Piccioni blends boogie-woogie rhythms on the piano with improv bongos, with ample room for a number of flute solos.
This music is not as predictable as it might, at first, seem and the leisurely-paced performances add to the hazy dream-like momentum. Not for all tastes, this "Grim Reaper" soundtrack might be likened to some of the Johnny Mandel soundtracks (such as POINT BLANK) that extend jazz into atonality.
Director Alberto Lattuada's 1962 MAFIOSO is an early cinematic vehicle for Alberto Sordi (who plays a protagonist named Badalamenti! ). It is a mafia movie - and it's a black comedy.
MAFIOSO succeeds in becoming something more significant than the sum of its seemingly disparate parts. One of those parts - Piero Piccioni's music score - sees Piccioni working in a Stravinskian vein this time around, not dissimilar to early Elmer Bernstein (like MEN IN WAR).
There's no soundtrack for MAFIOSO, but the preview @ Criterion's site whets the appetite:
We'll be ending this rather lengthy survey of 1962 with LA CITTA' PRIGIONIERA (CONQUERED CITY).
Not exactly a shining example of Piccioni music, this "Conquered City" seems like only one-third Piccioni, with the remainder of the soundtrack sounding like the simple melodies and overtures with fanfares that one might expect from Mario Nascimbene. Along the way, there's a hoary romantic piano rhapsody and ethnic folk tune interpolations. Ominous chords on low strings let us know that Piccioni is still present and accounted for as he imparts Cold War-era bi-tonal angst into a World War II setting.
By way of compensation for the patchwork of musical styles which is LA CITTA' PRIGIONIERA, this flick has not one but two Euro-seductresses worthy for this thread:
Transcendent Thanks for the Cinematic Clarification, TeeAre Department:
We weren't aware Mr. Piccione had done the follow-up to "Romolo et Remo" with this one (and, yer quite right, the score does pale considerably besides the former's accomplishment - tho not ineffective by itself).
And whilst on the subject of Musical Masters, howd'ja compare and contrast the singular styles of
A comparison between one composer's music with that of another is a large topic which begs for lengthy discourse and leaves open a wide-ranging field for debates & so forth.
Comparing Piero Piccioni with Ennio Morricone is something I'd prefer to keep brief by using the simplest of generalities. We wouldn't members of the Morricone fan base (large as it is) to take offence in any way that their favorite composer may not be the No.1 Maestro with fans who follow a different composer's drum.
Borrowing terms from the field of classical music and using them loosely, I would describe Morricone as neo-classical while positing Piccioni with impressionism.
For example, Morricone's INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION is considered by some to be the closest a film score can get to Classical music forms (in spite of its unorthodox orchestrations). The structure of Morricone's themes and their variations follow their own internal musical logic, and contrasts significantly with Hollywood's overall approach to synchronize music score with onscreen content. This is one of the generalizations I refer to above and it's not meant to be comprehensive in any sense. It's an observation for illustrative purposes.
This Classical/neo-classical facet is not an invalid method to utilize - the fugue, for instance, can be effective in some film scores just as well as in its typical place in classical music.
Speaking for myself, I prefer impressionism in music (spearheaded by Claude Debussy). I would describe the music of Piccioni as leaning towards impressionism. One of Piccioni's most beloved soundtracks is THE LIGHT AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. In this, multiple themes waft into each other and drift away or onwards without clear lines, just as there may be no dividing line between a seascape and a sky in an impressionistic painting. The elements seem to blend into each other. This is another generalization, too, but one which (I hope) depicts in simple terms the stylistic traits which attract my attention and beckon me to revisit the soundtracks of Piccioni much more frequently, and, consequently, to appreciate Piccioni's music more so than any other Italian (film score) composer.
WUNNERFUL Golden 'Generalities', Most Perceptive Pally;
It's a top-notch example of how overall generalities can lend specific substance to fundamentally shape and advance one's insightful perspective (try sayin' that with a mouthful of peanut butter and apple jelly )
One point in your understandably brief (but no less enthralling) thesis we found much merit in is
[ The structure of Morricone's themes and their variations follow their own internal musical logic, and contrasts significantly with Hollywood's overall approach to synchronize music score with onscreen content. This is one of the generalizations I refer to above and it's not meant to be comprehensive in any sense. It's an observation for illustrative purposes. ]
This distinctive aspect is what particularly distinguished our favorite composer and, on the august occasions we had to professionally observe his scoring sessions or personally chat with him in the Bev Hills home he was renting at the time, we wish we had taped those moments when he went into deeper discourse how his approach evolved (actually, we DID tape it but twas lost among other invaluables when much of our accumulated notes were callously/brutally/cruelly thrown away, but we obsess ).
Point being, comparing the contrasts can be a worthful endeavor that expands one's exposure and makes you rethink previous (hopefully not grounded in granite) ruminations.
Do continue on (and if you haven't conducted a class on film music/composers history, you OUGHTA - and, buhlieve it, Bub: we'll be first in (triplicate) line to enroll).
The music of Piccioni in 1963 began to reflect some mid-'60s aesthetics, although this development is observed from retrospect and wouldn't have been apparent at the time.
Over the course of this year, the paranoia of the Cold War relaxed its grip and Piccioni, in particular, gradually morphed from the big band jazz and atonality into the accessibility of pop-music vein, which goes easier on the ears and also mirrored the sexual revolution of young baby-boomers.
Antonio Pietrangeli's LA PARMIGIANA (THE GIRL FROM PARMA) obtains various music idioms out of Piccioni except a dramatic underscore. There's Latin rhythms & female scat & a tango & numbers for organ and xylophone. The Legend CD which features LA PARMIGIANA also combines it with 2 other scores by Piccioni from the late-'50s, all of which rank a low priority on any Piccioni fan's shopping list. This album is, unfortunately, bottom drawer Piccioni.
Much more fascinating is Piccioni's avant-garde & percussive score for IL DEMONIO, in which lots of sustained organ chords and electronically-altered sounds get occasional contrast from some sparse passages of ecclesiastical chorales. Alas, there's no soundtrack album on CD for IL DEMONIO, but an un-subtitled print has been released onto an Italian region 2 DVD (which has also been uploaded onto YouTube). I recommend highly IL DEMONIO, but it is an acquired taste to be sure. Shot on location in barren landscapes, this sun-lit & open-air precursor to THE EXORCIST stars Daliah Lavi as the possessed one. But do not expect any horror movie conventions in this naturalistic (almost neo-realistic) and non-sensational approach by director Brunello Rondi.
As a point of reference, the closest (that I can think of) an American entertainment approaches the atmosphere of IL DEMONIO would be the "La Strega" segment of THRILLER's 2nd season.
Next up are pair of Alberto Sordi comedies, neither of which I have or have heard, but both have been issued on Italian vinyl (and a CD re-issue):
IL DIAVOLO was re-titled TO BED OR NOT TO BED and released stateside on London records, the first Piccioni soundtrack to get U.S.A. distributed .
HANDS OVER THE CITY was covered by me in a previous entry, so onwards we go to IL TERRORISTA:
This CD plays more like a Nino Rota carnival collage - what with all the jazzy trills & easy listening trots & Classical music references & a harpsichord duet with jazz organ & parade marches & night club numbers - and there's barely room for a commentative underscore to develop in story-telling continuity. The (small) amount of score tracks that we do manage to hear demonstrates Piccioni in one of his final dissonant modes from the early '60s: nervous instrumental gurgling and grumblings from the lower registers.
Another facet of Piero Piccioni is the Henry Mancini type of commercialized jazzy numbers, which also makes one of its final incarnations in '63 with UN TENTATIVO SENTIMENTALE ...
... aka A SENTIMENTAL ATTEMPT.
This flick stars actress Françoise Prévost, who had appeared in an amazing amount of European feature films during the early 1960s (8 of her films were shown in 1961!)
Prévost did not go through any Hollywood-style cheesecake phases, but she's a looker nevertheless.
A most unusual assignment for Piero Piccioni happened when the film CONTEMPT (directed by Jean-Luc Godard) got truncated for its Italian distribution and Piccioni was called upon to replace Georges Delerue's melancholic score with sprightly jazz. The result is IL DISPREZZO:
Basically, this is Piero doing his organ thing. An O.K. album listening experience, but music which is quite out of synch with CONTEMPT's content.
By the way, Brigitte Bardot asks Michel Piccoli early in CONTEMPT if he likes her booty ...
Do you think anybody said "no" regarding that derriere?
Speaking of posteriors, we come to the end of this post with CHI LAVORA E' PERUDTO (WHO WORKS IS LOST), an early entry by Tinto Brass - future erotica huckster. CHI LAVORA E' PERUDTO has a lighthearted touch via the sounds of a wind octet. A comedic march and some jazzy pop music are also present on the soundtrack album (which shares disc space with another title I'll cover during the next installment).
Move over, Mount Rushmore, and make room for the four faces of MINNESOTA CLAY :
The C.A.M. LP
C.A.M. CD (1992)
King Records CD (1995)
GDM's 2012 CD expansion
Here's a few YouTube samples of one of the earliest Euro-Westerns, and the first Western to be scored by Piero Piccioni!
Piccioni's Western "sound" is rather unlike any of his other film scoring output; also, Piccioni Western soundtracks sound quite unlike the mold of the genre formed by Ennio Morricone. Upcoming late-'60s/early-'70s Westerns in Piccioni's work schedule witnessed Piero simply doing his own thing for them, and not attempting to "copycat" Morricone trademarks.
Here's more C.A.M. LPs from 1964 of Piccioni soundtracks (of which I know nothing about except the covers make them look interesting):
LA VITA AGRA
LA DONNA E' UNA COSA MERAVIGLIOSA (A WOMAN IS A WONDERFUL THING) has Piccioni in a Nino Rota mode. Lightweight pop music and long jazzy improvisations with organ are the order of the day with this soundtrack, wherein a parade march serves as its only contrast.
This album has the Piccioni score that I like the least; its companion piece (mentioned in the previous post about 1963) is a little better but not enough to recommend this GDM CD to anybody but the die-hard Piccioni completist.
While many of us are aware that actress Grace Kelly had her likeness on THE SWAN soundtrack before leaving the industry to become a princess of Monaco, how many of us encounter a soundtrack album cover with a real-life princess on it?
I TRE VOLTE
I'm unfamiliar with Soraya as well as what I TRE VOLTI is about and what its music sounds like. Nonetheless, Soraya's image on this LP cover is breathtakingly beautiful. [I understand Piccioni had a hit tune with I TRE VOLTE which was popular domestically]
Next entry will be 1965 - a year of change in which Piero Piccioni goes "Mainstream" ... ! ...
For a few years during the mid-1960s, America's "Mainstream Records" released a sequence of soundtrack albums which, on the whole, reflected newer/younger talents in the film scoring scene. This may or may not have been intentional, as larger studios and distributors 'outsourced' titles with less commercial potential to smaller record labels. The resultant effect, nonetheless, was that Mainstream significantly increased the number of albums available in the discographies of Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry. Another aspect of Mainstream was their releasing soundtracks from non-English films by directors such as Pasolini or Kadar. While RCA's LPs of Nino Rota music for Fellini and Visconti films appeared first, Mainstream followed suit and issued a pair of Piero Piccioni soundtracks from Italian cinema by Rosi and Elio Petri.
Here, then, are THE MOMENT OF TRUTH ...
... and THE TENTH VICTIM:
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH does not have the sort of commentative underscore that soundtrack collectors are most interested in. Piccioni's MOMENT OF TRUTH is an album of Hispanic-flavored music in traditional forms such as bullfight fanfares, a flamenco, a bolero, etc.. What rescues this LP out of the ordinary is Piccioni's personal "spin" on the conventional by performing jazzy renditions on those fanfares, by using the pipe organ, by having Bosa Nova, improvising on flamenco, and by having the strings sound neo-classical via Bach-like fugues.
This "MOMENT", like so many moments in our lives, passes by and gets forgotten. The same cannot be said of THE TENTH VICTIM, though, which is perhaps the most well-known film (in English speaking countries) that Piero Piccioni had scored. THE TENTH VICTIM has been an enduring Euro-cult item over the decades, no doubt because it's a satirical adaptation of a sci-fi story and well-remembered for the pistol-shooting brassier worn by Ursula Andress:
THE 10TH VICTIM/LA DECIMA VITTIMA is also a staple within Piero Piccioni's discography, being one of his superlative examples in Euro-lounge styles for which Piccioni is most associated with. Multiple CD incarnations of THE 10TH VICTIM soundtrack, as well as its appearance within numerous easy tempo compilations, do not make it any easier to describe this music to anyone who hasn't heard it.
The futuristic spiral "waltz', which sounds nothing like Strauss waltzes, might be deemed as this picture's main theme, sung, as it is, by Mina in jazz scat style. Staccato notes function as rhythm. There's virtuoso shifts in key, and a multitude of electronic organ effects. There's saxophone riffs and, elsewhere, piano solos. TV commercial jingles are parodied and - somehow - it all works (though don't ask us how!) Even the sound effects of guns firing, which open the album on track 1, adds to the overall surreal fabric. THE 10TH VICTIM may not be the finest music that Piero ever wrote, but no Piccioni soundtrack collection should be without its 10TH VICTIM!
As if 1965 thus far wasn't unusual enough for Piccioni soundtracks, '65 also contains Piccioni's earliest score for television (that I'm aware of) and a rejected film score!
LA FIGLIA DEL CAPITANO is an Italian TV program based upon Russian source material. This Piccioni TV music was recently released onto CD paired with another item, but I haven't heard it save for the sound samples (which sound dramatically heavy with Russian themes and solemnity).
The first I ever heard of a Piero Piccioni score getting rejected was when Carlo Savina's L'UOMO CHE RIDE (THE MAN WHO LAUGHS) was issued onto CD with a brief suite of Piccioni's unused music on the final track. This album I do have, and I feel that Savina's score was better suited. What little that can be heard of the Piccioni music sounds unnecessarily dense and rather incoherent, so perhaps it's for the best that Piccioni's effort went unused by the film-makers.
Borrowing terms from the field of classical music and using them loosely, I would describe Morricone as neo-classical while positing Piccioni with impressionism. ... Speaking for myself, I prefer impressionism in music (spearheaded by Claude Debussy). I would describe the music of Piccioni as leaning towards impressionism. One of Piccioni's most beloved soundtracks is THE LIGHT AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. In this, multiple themes waft into each other and drift away or onwards without clear lines, just as there may be no dividing line between a seascape and a sky in an impressionistic painting. The elements seem to blend into each other. This is another generalization, too, but one which (I hope) depicts in simple terms the stylistic traits which attract my attention and beckon me to revisit the soundtracks of Piccioni much more frequently, and, consequently, to appreciate Piccioni's music more so than any other Italian (film score) composer.
Here's an update to add onto one of my prior posts:
Having only just discovered this YouTube video on this 1961 film directed by Mauro Bolognini, I'm happy to report that Piero Piccioni's music score for LA VIACCIA (which has never been available on any soundtrack format) is a most ideal specimen on Piccioni's connection with French impressionism. All along I've thought about THE LIGHT AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD as Piccioni's most impressionistic soundtrack, then comes my introduction to LA VIACCIA whose film score is based upon Claude Debussy's Rhapsodie for Saxophone and Orchestra!
Does the connection get any greater than this?
LA VIACCIA is now a title which I immediately deposit onto my wish list for Piero Piccioni soundtrack albums yet to be realized.
A standout year in the discography of Piero Piccioni, 1967 witnessed two film scores which have become enduring favorites. One is a somber, introverted mood piece which contrasts conspicuously with the other's fanciful flights into fairy-tale antiquity. Both films were directed by leading Italians Luchino Visconti and Francesco Rosi, respectively; both soundtracks were expanded on CD in recent years. Only one, though, has had a commercially released LP program from the time of the film's distribution.
Visconti's LO STRANIERO (THE STRANGER) was one of the rare cinematic adaptations based upon a work by existentialist author Albert Camus. LO STRANIERO has been out of circulation for a long time and has enjoyed little, if any, dissemination onto home video formats. Piccioni's score, too, didn't surface until a 20-minute suite appeared in 2005 on a Point Records album. Fortunately, LO STRANIERO was one of the titles which received expansion on the Japanese Verita Note label:
Piccioni's music, subtly tinged with Arabic intervals, is a mesmeric audio journal of repeated vacillating patterns. Uncannily approaching the musical traits of Minimalism a year or so before this particular artistic movement formally commenced, LO STRANIERO is mostly pianissimo pulsations of dissonant organ chords, electronic keyboard effects, wordless female vocalise & enchanting flute. Strident shrieks book-end the start and finish of LO STRANIERO, which, overall, strives for transcendental meditation. An acquired taste to be sure, LO STRANIERO might very well be too static for any listener who is not attuned to its wavelengths and expects a more customary story-telling musical narrative.
With Rosi's medieval fantasy/romance - C'ERA UNA VOLTA (MORE THAN A MIRACLE) - Piero Piccioni attained a cinematic vehicle with which his music received its greatest chances of breaking into the Hollywood big-time. While MORE THAN A MIRACLE was deemed enough of a prestige picture to have its corresponding soundtrack LP distributed on MGM records, this, alas, did not lead to any further open doors with respect to Piero's opportunities to score more American movies.
Just as soon as Piero Piccioni's name appeared in the U.S. film score firmament, his soundtrack star began to fade with this LP (his final high-profile item with the English-speaking audiences):
Fortunately, again, this score was blessed with a loving expansion through the joint efforts of FSM and Claudio Fuiano.
Unfortunately, with FSM's CD production cessation, this 3-disc set of MORE THAN A MIRACLE + KENNER will likely remain the only such product of a joint venture between Italy and a U.S. based label.
The noble long-lined melodies from MORE THAN A MIRACLE (as well as its sentimentality, antiquity, comedic naivety, etc.) can be heard in FSM's own sound samples, so I'll post instead a short glimpse of a rendition not included in this CD box: